The Irish hare
Lepus timidus hibernicus,
(Linnaeus 1759) is an endemicsubspecies now believed to be genetically distinct from the Scottish Mountainhare and more closely related to mainland European populations of
(Hamill, 2001). The best available evidence suggests a major decline in Harenumbers in Northern Ireland from the beginning to the latter part of the 20
Century. This decline has been attributed to environmental changes, notably lossof plant species richness, associated with intensification of agriculture (Dingerkus& Montgomery, 1997).The only comprehensive survey of the population of the Irish Harethroughout Northern Ireland was carried out in the mid-1990s by Dingerkus(Queen's University Belfast). Surveys were conducted by walking diagonallyacross 1km squares and counting the number of Hares observed as they wereflushed from cover and searching intensively throughout each square. Thissurvey demonstrated that although widespread throughout Northern Ireland, theIrish Hare occurred at low densities of around 1-2 per km
. These observationsprompted a Biodiversity Species Action Plan (EHS, 2000) to set as targets:“to maintain the existing range and demonstrate a population increase by2005; double present population by 2010 over as much of the range aspossible and, maintain and increase the area and quality of suitable harehabitat.”The Irish Hare still appears on the quarry list and may be hunted legally inNorthern Ireland at certain times of the year and by certain methods includingcoursing by dogs (Wildlife (NI) Order, 1985). The Northern Ireland Assembly in2001 debated Hare coursing and introduced a new amendment to the GamePreservation Act (NI) 1928 governing the issue of permits to net Hares - GamePreservation (Amendment) Act (NI) 2002. This requires that the Department besatisfied that the trapping of Hares for the purposes of coursing has no impact onthe wild population.